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Review: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

April 13, 2012

Strength in What Remains coverTitle: Strength in What Remains
Author: Kidder, Tracy
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher / Year: Random House / 2010
Source: Purchased a couple years ago in an airport bookstore.
Rating: 3.5/5
Why I Read It: I loved Kidder’s prior book about Paul Farmer (my hero).
Date Read: 24/03/12

In this well written and engaging biography Kidder tells the story of Deogratias and his escape from Burundi to Rwanda and back again during the genocide in both countries. He ended up escaping to the United States where he struggled to survive and was eventually taken in by a couple who helped him to complete his education. He now works as a doctor. Kidder seems to have met Deogratias through Paul Farmer, whom he profiled in his previous work, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

This book is told in two parts. The first part details Deo’s life and struggles from a young child to the present. The second part of the book allows others who had some part of his life, especially once he found assistance in the United States, to tell their sides of his story including why and how they became involved. In the second section we also spend some time with Kidder and Deo as they return to Burundi and spend some time going back to some of the sites mentioned.

While the Rwandan genocide is an event about which we all know much, I hadn’t known much about the genocide in Burundi that immediately preceded it or how the two worked off of each other to grow and become the atrocities that they were. Through this story we learn a lot about the history and politics of both countries and the ways in which both genocides came about. We also learn about life in general in Burundi and about life growing up in that country. We also learn more about the current political situations and how the country is faring.

My main issue with this book was that, being told through the filter of a white man with little experience of Burundi, it is painted as only poor and backwards. Deo himself in his coping with the events seems to have completely dismissed the country as having positives and when he speaks, in the second section, about the country he also paints it as very backwards. Burundi isn’t seen as having anything worth aspiring to or desiring, it is simply poor and useless. The target audience for this book is clearly North Americans and Europeans, not Africans, the writing makes clear.

Overall, an interesting read about the power of our minds and bodies to bring us through incredible hardships, and a cautionary tale about politics and identity and their interactions.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2012 9:16 am

    interesting. I’ve heard a lot about the Burundi genocide but have not read much about it, unlike the Rwandan event. Perhaps it’s the trauma that Deo went through that destroyed the country in his subconscious because definitely whilst living in that country there might be some things that would attract him there. Or perhaps, it’s a matter of marketability like Agualusa said in one of his stories.

    • April 25, 2012 4:11 pm

      Yes, I would suspect that his trauma did play a large part in his thoughts regarding his country of birth Nana. I’ll have to check out the story you mention.

  2. buriedinprint permalink
    April 13, 2012 10:16 am

    I’ve only read some of his earlier works, but I heard an interview with him that made me realize how much more politically aware he seems to have become since that time; this sounds like a worthwhile read, and one which deserves a wide audience, even though you might have wished for a different slant, given the experience that you have had through your reading in the past while (which is understandable, of course).

    • April 25, 2012 4:12 pm

      Kidder must be a fascinating person to talk to or listen to an interview with I would imagine, BIP, simply because of all of the people with whom he has spent so much time learning!

  3. April 13, 2012 11:16 am

    I have read and heard a lot about the Rawandan genocide, but not the Burundi genocide, and this book seems like it would teach me a lot. I am troubled a bit by how Burundi is painted to be poor and backward in this book though, so I am a bit soothed by Buried In Print’s comment. Very interesting review today on a topic that I am sadly not well informed about. I appearantly need to do some research!

    • April 25, 2012 4:12 pm

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who had heard so much about the event zibilee!

  4. April 13, 2012 4:29 pm

    Books like this are difficult to read but I think they’re so important. I’ll have to look for this one.

    • April 25, 2012 4:13 pm

      I think you would enjoy the read Kathy. Kidder’s books are always so well-written.

  5. April 17, 2012 4:10 pm

    second time I ve seen this recommend in a week Amy I not read his first book and that was one i want totry as well ,I must try and find where my library has them if they have them so many people have a hard time when they move countries like this ,all the best stu

  6. April 24, 2012 5:18 pm

    I own this book and have it on my must-read-soon list. I was so amazed by Mountains Beyond Mountains. And because I am working through all of Kidder’s books.

    • April 25, 2012 4:14 pm

      Oh I really want to read more of his works Care, and am glad to hear you also loved Mountains Beyond Mountains. I hope that you enjoy this read.

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